Over the past few years, many jobs that used to require a daily trip to the office have moved to virtual spaces.
YouTube vloggers, travel writers, online teachers: these digital nomads make their livings from the comfort of their own home (or a hostel, internet cafe, friend’s couch, etc).
It all sounded incredibly glamorous… until COVID-19 hit and people all over the world suddenly found themselves converting their living rooms or kitchen tables into temporary offices.
Now the kids are giggling and sprinting around the room. The internet speed is as slow as a turtle because all of the neighbors are working from home offices (and watching Netflix) at the same time.
You have an important deadline coming up in a few hours… but you also have to get dinner on the table.
You’re having trouble focusing on your computer when there are so many things you could be doing around the house.
Suddenly, working from home doesn’t seem quite so glamorous anymore!
As a kid, both of my parents worked from home. I didn’t appreciate how lucky I was until years later, but having two parents work from home meant that someone was always there to help me with homework, drop me off at whatever daily activity I had going on, and ask me how my day was when I got home from school.
Years later, when I got my first job as a travel blogger, I gained a new appreciation for how my parents managed work schedules, two kids, and life.
My dad had a routine; every weekday morning he had his breakfast and coffee, headed to his office down the hallway, and promptly shut the door. We wouldn’t see him again until he surfaced for a break around lunchtime.
My own first experience of working from home was nothing like my dad’s picture of efficiency and routine. I was more likely to find myself slumped in bed at 3am with my computer and a cup of coffee, desperately trying to finish my next article before morning.
Since then, I’ve spent several years working as an online teacher, translator, and writer. I also opened my own small business and became my own boss, which is the best way to feel like you’ve never done enough.
I’ve learned a lot about working out of home; and most of it I learned the hard way.
I’ll probably never reach the level of routine that my dad has, but I realized that that’s ok, too. Everybody has their own style that works best for them.
So for all of you who have found yourselves suddenly (and unexpectedly) working from home, here are my three top tips:
1. Set boundaries
This can go both ways: set boundaries to keep your personal life out of your workday, but also set boundaries for keeping your workday from taking over your personal life!
When working from an office, these boundaries are set without us even realizing them. We physically leave our house, open the door to our office, and punch in on the time clock. And at the end of our workday we sign out of the computer, shut off the lights, leave the building, and maybe even change out of our uniform. All of these ceremonies help us create a concrete divide: work life vs. personal life.
We also have specific rules that help us maintain a daily structure. We have to be at the office at a certain time. We have lunch break. We clock-out at the end of the day.
When we are no longer faced with the rules and ceremonies of an office day, it becomes all too easy to sleep in a bit later, work all day in your pyjamas, feel guilty and skip lunch break to make up for the lost time, answer the phone for a personal call, take a break to wash the dishes and do some laundry, realize suddenly that there’s still so much work to get done, and find yourself finishing your work in bed at midnight.
My advice is to set some boundaries for yourself. Set some new rules (they don’t have to be the same rules that you had at the office). Set hours for yourself. Stick to them. Assume that you’ll want to take breaks to get a snack, walk around and stretch, or check your Instagram – set aside some time to do those things. Make it official, and hold yourself to the boundaries that you set.
And at the end of the day, when you’ve completed your hours or the to-do list you set for the day, make sure that you “clock out.” As hard as it can be to stick to a set schedule, it can be even harder to escape your work! Are you usually expected to check and answer work emails at all hours of the night? Set some kind of end-of-the-day ceremony to mark the official boundary of work and personal life, and “step out” of the office (even if that just means mentally stepping out)!
If there are other people at home with you (a partner, kids, a roommate), then make sure you set boundaries for them too! Asking your roommates or partner to respect the hours you’ve set for yourself is important. When you’re working, maybe you’re not available for chit-chat, answering a question, or taking a phone call. They should imagine that you’re “at the office,” and that they can catch you at your lunch break or when you finish for the day. Of course, setting boundaries with kids can be a lot easier said than done – and we could probably write an entire blog post on just that topic!
2. Find what works for you
As I mentioned before, everybody is slightly different and has different needs and preferences. Although you should set boundaries, the beauty of working from home is that you can specifically tailor those boundaries for your own work style too!
I spent a few years of feeling guilty for pushing off my work commitments during the day and writing at night… but I ultimately came to realize that the evening is when I feel most productive and when I do my best work.
So I made it official; I set my alarm clock for later in the morning, gave myself time to do yoga and read a book in the early afternoon when I feel the most sluggish, and early evening is when I often “clock in” for my day of work. I get my deadlines done on time. I work the correct amount of hours. But I shifted my day to appeal more to my own personal preferences (and night-owl tendencies).
Tailoring your home office to your personal style also means thinking about your physical office space and work environment. If you need organization, calm, and quiet, then set up a place in your home that provides those things for you. If you can work from anywhere, and your work environment doesn’t affect how you work, then that’s ok too.
But definitely take the time to adapt your environment to your needs. If working at the kitchen table doesn’t work for you, make some changes and find/create a space at home where you feel comfortable and inspired. Even if this is a temporary situation, it’s an important effort to make.
Plus, without co-workers around to complain about your music/incense/posters on the wall, this is finally your chance to make your office 100% you!
3. Reward yourself
Working at home, being your own supervisor, holding yourself accountable, self-motivating… these are all incredibly challenging things to do on a daily basis! It’s so important to give yourself a pat on the back every now and then, and to acknowledge all of the hard work that you’re doing.
Sometimes it’s easier to get things done when you provide yourself with an incentive, too!
Maybe for every hour that you spend answering emails, give yourself 10 minutes to make a tea and check your phone messages. If you work for four hours straight and complete the report that you’ve been working on all week, then promise yourself an hour to go on a jog or walk your dog before you come back to the computer. And if you’ve worked 5 days straight and accomplished all of your tasks for the week, then promise yourself a weekend free of work commitments and a glass of wine to celebrate the end of your work week (or whatever it is that you like to do to celebrate).
Just because you’re not heading into the office every day doesn’t mean you’re not doing hard work! And sometimes when we’re self-motivating, we need a little help with incentive! Acknowledge how amazing you are for adapting to a new situation, keeping up with responsibilities, and juggling all of the challenges of creating a successful home office!